“Options to completely avoid in-can preservatives are scarce and in general combined with adverse side-effects”, German Institute says.

Any consumer or professional would recognise that a product that degrades too quickly is a problem. First, the money invested is lost. If the product spoils or loses effectiveness, then more product would need to be purchased. This reflects poorly on the product manufacturer and degrades their reputation with consumers. Additionally, and more importantly, a non-preserved product can cause adverse safety effects to workers and consumers alike, due to germ infestation.

Preserving consumer products via microbial control therefore has a lot of advantages. Nonetheless, microbial control has its opponents, with some arguing that the use of biocidal agents in products can harm consumers and/or professional users. Some opponents claim that products can last long on their own and do not need preservation, while others will state that preservation is a simple and unique process, and can fit all type of products or applications.

These concerns or views are not new. In fact, they have been addressed on multiple occasions by competent authorities. Since April 2019, the Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health in Germany (BAUA) ran a survey[1] to assess the current availabilities of in-can preservatives for products such as varnishes, paints and adhesives. In particular, it examined whether there are feasible alternative substances or procedures with comparable effectiveness for in-can preservation, but which represent a lower level of risk. The findings were published this summer[2].

First, the institute recognises that due to previous and ongoing regulation, potential options for in-can preservation of water-based coatings and adhesives in general were narrowed. It also acknowledged that the lack of ongoing research for the development of new active substances is caused by the tedious approval process established in the Biocidal Products Regulation (BPR) (EC) No. 528/2012. It states therefore that today, product innovation essentially consists of combinations of existing agents.

Companies engaged on microbial control technologies are working to ensure preservatives are evaluated via a robust risk-based safety assessment so that potential exposure does not lead to adverse effects. In addition, the industry continues to explore other ways of preserving products, such as innovation in packaging, upgrading facilities and production processes to reduce risk of contamination from agents, etc. But these efforts have not led to the possible “avoidance of preservation measures in order to achieve the necessary shelf life to the end products”, BAUA says.

In view of the survey’s results, MCEC members reiterate the call for a risk-based safety approach in the approval of microbial control solutions that target harmful organisms, while ensuring the safety of consumers and professionals.

[1] A. Müller, V. Schmahl, S. Gschrei: Survey on alternatives for in-can preservatives for varnishes, paints and adhesives. 1. edition. Dortmund: Bundesanstalt für Arbeitsschutz und Arbeitsmedizin 2020. pages 57, PDF file, DOI: 10.21934/baua:report20200811, https://www.baua.de/EN/Service/Publications/Report/Gd103.pdf?__blob=publicationFile&v=2
[2] Survey on alternatives for in-can preservatives for varnishes, paints and adhesives, BAUA, 2020, https://www.baua.de/EN/Service/Publications/Report/Gd103.html